What Is Chiaroscuro?


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What is the concept of chiaroscuro?

Chiaroscuro is an artistic technique that uses shadows and a single source of light to create depth and drama. This technique can be used in drawing and painting but is mostly seen in oil paintings.

The term chiaroscuro comes from the Italian term which means light to dark. In theory, all objects take their shape through the presence of light. By incorporating a gradient of light and dark, a figure can appear more three-dimensional on a canvas.

This method of painting is difficult and time-consuming, even for experienced artists. Several early artists such as Rembrandt and Caravaggio have shown how dramatic and impressive this technique can be, which is why many artists continue to implement this method regardless of technical difficulty.


The chiaroscuro-style painting dates back to the 5th century in ancient Greece. The style was also seen in art from the Byzantine era, as well as throughout the Middle Ages. In the 15th century, most religious painters used this technique in their paintings.

Over time, several famous Renaissance painters played with the balance of light and dark in their work. Some of these artists include Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael. However, the term chiaroscuro became well known during the Baroque era with artists such as Caravaggio and Rembrandt.

The main difference between Renaissance and Baroque paintings was the way the play of light and shadow was used to create a mood. During the Renaissance, soft light was cast on subjects to create calm and serene scenes. Artists of the Baroque period used light and dark outlines to create drama and intrigue.

The following artistic periods continued to use this technique. Throughout the Rocco period, artists like Fragonard and Watteau would paint scenes that emphasized light and dark. Romantic Impressionist paintings also use a variety of heavy shadows and a single light source.

Chiaroscuro and other similar techniques

Various painting techniques use the play of light and shadow to create impact. Here are some other notable methods and how they differ and are similar to chiaroscuro.

  • Tenebrismo vs Claroscuro: The tenebrismo is a technique of the Mannerist period. It is similar to chiaroscuro in that both methods use light and darkness to create dimension. Again, chiaroscuro is used to create a realistic three-dimensional effect by casting shadows. On the other hand, Darkness intentionally keeps the liberal parts of the painting in the dark to create drama. Basically, the distinction is in the type of light that is projected. Chiaroscuro brightens a subject and casts shadows to create dimension. The darkness will only illuminate a few small areas of the canvas to illuminate a subject as if it were under a strong, narrow spot of light. Some paintings, especially those by Caravaggio, include both techniques at the same time.
  • Sfumato vs Chiaroscuro: In chiaroscuro, the meeting point between light and dark areas tends to be sharp and distinct. These schemes can sometimes seem harsh and blunt. Instead, Leonardo da Vinci decided to implement a technique known as sfumato. This technique softens the mixture between light and dark, as you see in the face of the Mona Lisa. Sfumato should blend light and dark subtly and without the use of lines or borders.

How to use this technique

Try not to be intimidated by this technique if you want to give it a try. No one expects artists to create a Rembrandt-style masterpiece when they first learn to paint chiaroscuro paintings. The best thing to do is to have the right and convenient, convenient, and convenient settings.

Here's how to get started

  • Gather your supplies. You will need some basic painting supplies. In this case, oil paint is the most versatile medium that mixes and overlaps easily. Buy an inexpensive oil paint starter kit if you don't already have one.
  • Pick a topic. Stick with something you already have confidence in drawing and painting. This object of study can be a still life or a portrait, but it does not have to be too elegant.
  • Set the lighting. Lighting will be the most integral part of your installation. You'll want to think like a photographer here to make sure a light source bounces off your subject the way you want it to. For a still life, create a small lightbox from a cardboard box. Paint the inside of the box black and poke a small hole in one side of the box. Place the box next to a window that receives lots of natural light. The light should shine through the hole and illuminate only one side of your still life.
  • Take a reference photo. If you want to paint an original portrait, please take a photo first. Place your subject in an area where light is shining only on one side of their face. Increase the contrast in the photo so you can see exactly where the light hits your face and where there are shadows.
  • Copy a teacher. If you are not confident enough to create an original painting, find a tutorial to follow online or print a reference photo of a famous work and try to copy it. Pay particular attention to how dark and light are shaded and blended in the image.

Chiaroscuro is an artistic technique that has been used for several hundred years. Modern artists have developed the concept to include a wide variety of subjects and mediums. If you want to try this method for yourself, practice your mixing skills until you feel confident enough to start painting. Good luck!

Enjoy The Video Tutorial about The Power of Chiaroscuro!

Source: Little Art Talks

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